DENVER -- In front of a record-breaking crowd at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, No. 5 seed Denver team defeated North Carolina 9-5 in the first round of the NCAA championships on Saturday evening.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this team’s performance out there tonight,” head coach Bill Tierney said. “From offense to defense our guys left it all out on the field and really played a great game. Credit to UNC for really playing us tough and not letting up throughout the game.”
Freshman Zach Miller and junior Erik Adamson led Denver’s offensive effort with a combined five points, each recording two goals, while Miller adding an assist. Denver extended its win streak to 12 games, tying its longest winning streak in Pioneer history.
This is the second consecutive year that the Pioneers (15-2) have hosted an NCAA championship first-round game and the third in program history. This was the third consecutive season that the Pioneers played North Carolina (10-5) in the NCAA tournament, coming out on top in all three matches.
Sophomore Jack Bobzien led the Pioneers with four points off one goal and an assist, while junior Wesley Berg and senior Jeremy Noble both tallied a goal and an assist.
Junior Sean Cannizzaro and freshman Dallas Bridle all added to the Pioneers’ scoring force as they each picked up a goal.
Sophomore face-off specialist Chris Hampton won 7 of 16 face-offs, while grabbing two ground balls. Bobzien tied his career-high of five ground balls, while Noble picked up five as well.
Securing the win, junior goalie Ryan LaPlante improved to 10-0 on the season, making three saves on the day and helped Denver into the locker room with a 5-1 lead at half, while senior goalie Jamie Faus also had three saves, allowing four on the evening. Tar Heels goalie Kieran Burke made 11 saves on the evening.
UNC’s Joey Sankey led the Tar Heels with two goals, while Chad Tutton led the way in points off one goal and two assists.
Denver held the advantage in shots (38-28), ground balls (26-19), while the Tar Heels led in saves (11-6) and won 9-of-16 face-offs.
Denver jumped out to an early lead off a man-up goal by Bridle with 9:52 left to play. The Tar Heels answered minutes later as Steve Pontrello and Pat Foster teamed up. Adamson netted his 37th of the season with 1:19 left before the end of the first quarter to put the Pioneers up 2-1, as Bobzien provided the assist.
Denver then scored the next three goals in the second quarter as Cannizzaro, Adamson and Berg all scored to give the Pioneers a 5-1 advantage heading into the locker room. Following the break, UNC scored two quick goals to start the third quarter, cutting into the Pioneers’ cushion.
However, two consecutive goals from Miller to close the third quarter and one from Noble to start the fourth quarter, halted the Tar Heels comeback. North Carolina scored with 13:06 left in the fourth quarter to make it 8-4 Denver, but Bobzien put DU back up by five with his 39th goal of the season off a pass from Noble with 4:04 remaining. The Tar Heels Sankey scored the final goal of the game, netting a man-up goal with 3:36 left in regulation.
Denver advances to the quarterfinals for the fourth consecutive season and will play the winner of the Penn vs. Drexel game.